i am.


I loved my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Israel.  He was such a hard-ass and commanded attention.  I was slightly scared of him, but mostly, I wanted to impress him.  He wasn’t one of those teachers who showed his like of you.  With some teachers, you just knew they liked you.  He wasn’t so easily swayed.  He was one of my favorites for this, for this inability to have favorites.  In his class, I mostly remember learning grammar.  He once quizzed us asking us to write the shortest possible sentence.  The answer was: I am.  “No,” is not a sentence.  A sentence, he insisted needed a subject.  He fascinated me. Then when class was over, he’d slip out of the room and run his hand along the tiled walls of the school, rocking almost, as if he were in his own world and hadn’t just escaped from ours.

He once told this class of eighth graders that excellent performance on SAT exams was largely determined for us, when we were children.  “If your parents read aloud to you, studies have shown, that you’ll perform better.”  I think he meant overall, and not necessarily with regard to test scores.  I’ve always loved being read to.  Story time with a dreamy lamp and coloring book before me.  Each and every night my parents read me bedtime stories.  My favorites, though, where when they made them up.  My mother had already read me something, but I’d beg her to stay, so she’d promise a quick story with the lights off.  Then she’d make up something about twins, Clara and Tara, who fought at school.  Clara put Nair in Tara’s shampoo bottle.  These are the stories my mother told me.  And I remember them fondly.  Twisted, but fondly.  I hope I’m the same way, reading them twisted stories, inappropriate for children, assuming they’ll never remember.  Reading aloud is always a good thing, even when you’re slightly freakish.

So I’m going to start reading aloud to the guppies, now.  Okay, I’m not.  But I do sing to them when I’m in the car, alone.  The Suitor sings into my stomach at night.  Sadly it’s the alphabet song.  He does it in a deep voice, which sounds nothing like him. 
“Why do you do that?” I ask.
“Because they can hear me.”
“But why do you use that Darth Vader voice?”
“Because it’s soothing.” 
Then I look at him with my head cocked to the side while saying, “I do not think so,” in a Spanish accent, as if I’m Inigo Montoya.  “They’re going to come out, and unless you talk like James Earl Jones all the time, they won’t know it’s you.”  Still, I think it’s adorable that he sings to them.  I just wish he’d vary it up sometimes.  It gets a little boring. 

My grandfather is bored, too.  He has pretty much lost his vision completely, so he cannot read the paper.  He cannot watch a ballgame.  And now, he is no longer mobile.  He’s in a wheelchair.  Blind.  He phoned me the other day to tell me he was bored, but he didn’t say it.  He just said, “there’s no family.  There’s nothing to do.”  I sighed.  “But,” he added now hopeful, “I’m going to have a nurse read your book aloud to me.”  OH DEAR GOD, NO.  Reading aloud is not always a good thing!  I cannot imagine the look on a nurse’s face when she’s asked to read about my sticking my finger up a guy’s ass to an old man, blind, in a wheelchair.  I better call my father and make sure he doesn’t let any of my grandfather’s nurses read to him from Straight Up and Dirty.  “How’s the other book coming?” he asked.
“Good.  Thanks for sending all those letters I’d sent to you at camp.”
“Yeah, that book’s about the fatty farm, huh?”
“Yes, Grandpa.”
“And are you happy?” he asked.
“I am.”


  1. I am so glad you wrote this post today after reading your sister's comment yesterday. I was concerned as 'Poppy' sounds like a Grandpa name to me and you had made recent reference to his health. I am looking forward to hearing all about your wedding and seeing pictures after the fact Stephanie, I sure hope all goes well for you guys!

    Enjoy the last few days of preparation!

  2. Very nice. That last line got a smile out of me.

    I'd do anything to have 5 more minutes with my grandparents. Consider yourself blessed.

  3. Did you know it's Grandparent's Day on Sunday? I didn't until my mom told me. Just dropped a card in the mail for my YaYa today. Thought I'd spread the word in case you're like me and clueless.

  4. I damn near choked at the thought of a nurse reading your book to your Grandpa. The image of him hearing about the Pam cooking spray is hilarious.

    I don't remember if my parents read to me too much as a child. I do know I scored a 750 on my SAT verbal. I guess they did read to me afterall.

  5. My grandmother is in a nursing home and rarely knows who I am when I go visit, which isn't nearly often enough. Sometimes she touches my hair and then realizes, even if only for a few minutes, who I am. Sometimes she gets my sister and I confused, but I don't care as long as she remembers something. Sometimes she remembers playing Dukes of Hazzard with my sister and I in the driveway of her house. She would pretend to be Boss Hog eating fried chicken while my sister and I (Bo and Luke) pretended to put her in jail. I have no idea how she tolerated that game for so long.

  6. i love this blog! it has brought a S-M-I-L-E to my face! it brings back so many memories of bed time and my sister. my younger sister and i used to share a room when we were younger and that meant we got to chit-chat before falling asleep (it was actually alot like sleep away camp, up late talking and giggling as little girls do). every night we would take turns telling each other a story. the story was considered "a good story" if our mother had to come in and tell us to be quite and to go to sleep.
    i'm gonna have to call her up and make plans for a sleep over!
    and stephanie…READ! READ! READ! and SING! SING! SING to your little guppies. read and sing anything and everything. it will make a huge difference in their development.

  7. Twisted inappropriate books for children. The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey is one of my favorite reads for my son (6 1/2). I've been reading it to him since he was 3 and have wondered whether the book is too f$#%'d up for him. Naaahh. It's an alphabet book with a grisly death for each alphabet letter. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech. N is for Neville who died of ennui. I think my kid is the only kid in his 1st grade class who knows what ennui is. So much to look forward to with kids. I especially love reading him books that were my favorites as a kid, Dr. Suess's ABC, Old Black Witch, Miss Susie (about a squirrel whose home is invaded and destroyed by a band of rogue squirrels. toy soldiers come in and restore order. Talk about twisted!)

  8. Stephanie,
    I am a social worker who specializes in working with the elderly. Many states have a division of services for the blind as part of their state goverment. Through this department, you can get books on tape and/or cd. I freqeuntly use this free service for my clients. If not, have his nurse go to the library and check some out for him, just make sure to turn up the volume.

  9. Stephanie,
    I am a social worker who specializes in working with the elderly. Many states have a division of services for the blind as part of their state goverment. Through this department, you can get books on tape and/or cd. I freqeuntly use this free service for my clients. If not, have his nurse go to the library and check some out for him, just make sure to turn up the volume.

  10. Ok, a) what part of the book – someone remind me, was a 'finger in the ass'??? I forget?? With which guy…? Not the Pam guy right?

    b) Jennifer, are you greek? I hope to death you don't pronounce yaya like YAya… Its yaYAAAAA. Just wondering.

    Cute story Stephanie. I loved my 8th grade Social Studies teacher. He's open the windows in January and make us freeze because he said it 'would stimulate the brain'. I remember that and feel that way to this day…..

  11. I played classical music for both our children when they were in utero, throughout their infancy & younger years. Although both are grown now & will listen to it, albeit rarely, & one makes sure the radio tuned to a classical station when his dogs are alone, it was our last dog who truly responded to it. When a thunderstorm was imminent or in the throes, nothing but Mozart would assuage her fears & shaking. Only Mozart worked. She'd climb up on the sofa, roll over on her back, & chill out, totally relaxed & happy. Once we changed composers in mid-storm to something more avant-garde. She cocked her head, gave us a look, & left the room immediately!

  12. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

    I alternate between this and:

    "Must have been a holy taco, or something."

    When I'm gettin' on my Spanish.

  13. Hi Stephanie,
    Enjoying the book and had the same thought as everyone "granpa noooooo".

    but at least he wants to hear it. how sweet is he?!! it makes me a little teary cause my poppop wont get to read anything i write!

    And I am just glad that God blessed you with the life you have now!

  14. I chose a special song whose tune I could carry and sang it every day when I was pregnant with my twins. It was a sure fire soother for them from the minute they were born — and still is, seven years later.

  15. My mother read to me as a child. Every night she would make sure me and my two sisters where clean and then she would take her bath. I used to put my little ear up to the door of the bathroom waiting to hear the plug to get pulled from the drain. As soon as I heard the drain guuurggle I would run and get my pillow, blanket & the book of choice. I always meet my mother at the rocking chair in our family room. I still remember those nights so long ago. I think what triggers the memories the most is the smell of my mothers clean skin and the sound of her soothing voice reading me to sleep.
    As an adult, I love to read. So, I think you should read everything to your guppies. Start now, because my life wouldn't be compelete if I didn't get to escape into a book everynight. Still!

  16. i would normally never post on a strangers blog but i'm teaching eighth grade English tomorrow for the first time and i absolutely loved the part about your old english teacher it was inspiring i hope i have kids like you. good luck with everything.

  17. My husband read Guess How Much I Love You to our son almost every night in utero. He swears that our Little Nutbrown Hare recognized his voice as soon as he came out because of it. I finished your book last light. It always seems trite when people say "everything happens for a reason" but it seems so true in your case. It made me sad to hear of your pain and yet it seems you had to go through it to get to the beautiful place you are today. Enjoy your wedding day!

  18. Jennifer, thanks for the heads-up. Hopefully we get take the GP's out.

    On the teacher thing, it's remarkable what a difference they can make, both ways. I've had teachers that can just drive you to tears wondering how long you've been there, and the clock tells you it's only been 5 minutes.

    And I've had teachers where I'd be thinking, no no, the period can't be over yet. I still remember my rookie year in college. At 8:30 AM, the cafeteria would be filled with a whole bunch of kids sipping coffee to escape their hangover, and a small handful of us scouring the The Times and the WSJ waiting for our eco teacher to explain every single detail from the prior day's financial news. What a gift she was.

  19. you are so adorably delicious i can no longer stand it. i have so much reading for grad school and all i want to do is pick Straight Up & Dirty up and read it all over again. i can not wait for the next book, the possible sitcom, the appearance on Oprah – everything.

    I hope the last week of planning/preparations goes smoothly. Can't wait to see pictures and read the details.

  20. I love this post…I love children's books and cannot wait to have kids to read to every night! Kid's can handle much more than we think when it comes to twisted and innaporpriate stories. If you look at old versions of fairy tales they almost all had horrible violent endings, it's only recently that we've sanitized the heck out of them so everyone lives happily ever after. Kids grew up just fine with the old versions.

    Speaking of sanitizing books…maybe you can take a black magic marker and edit a "grandpa friendly" copy to send to his nurse?

  21. Classical music is a must – in utero and without. Reading to the babies from their very inception can only do good. My darlings are all in gifted and talented programs – I do believe that a love of reading is largely responsible for that.

    But a tricky thing is having a 7th grader reading on a college level and trying to find age/situational/culturally appropriate literature for her. Of course we've done Jane Austin, all the Anne of Green Gables, All the Louisa Mae Alcotts, JK Rowlings, etc. …any suggestions?

  22. My mother used to sing a church hymn to my sister while she was still a "guppie". When Amanda was born, singing that same song helped her stop crying when she was fussy.

  23. Oh, I am in the first 100 pages of your book and thinking – probably not a good book for Grandpa :o)
    However, it is an excellent book for me!
    I didn't sing to my guppies, but I did play classical music on my tummy via headphones. I think that it did make a difference. When LO was a newborn, the only way I could get her to sleep was to play Bach. With BG Back would wake up her up .. which is how they had both listened pre-birth …

  24. To 3 teens' mom: I remember reading Gone With the Wind when I was 12 years old…& loving it. How about Catcher in the Rye?

  25. It's so funny that he speaks to the babies in a low voice. Is this something that he knows or just an instinct? I recently listened to a radio show that discussed this very thing; babies in the womb only respond to low sounds, this is why low sounds are soothing to us as adults as well. This was all being discussed in relation to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, apparently a favorite of babies-to-be.

  26. buy the big headphones and put them on your belly. it's a kick to see how they react to different music and sounds.

  27. What Carole said! The rest of Salinger, too. Franny & Zooey is side-splittingly funny in places. Also, anything by John Irving, but especially Garp & Owen Meany. And Evelyn Waugh. Not just Brideshead Revisited but also Scoop and Put Out More Flags. But not Straight Up & Dirty. Not for 7th graders and most definitely NOT for Grandpas.

  28. Not to hijack the comments section, but 3teens' mom: try some of Gregory Maguire's books like Wicked or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.

  29. My general philosophy would be to let the 7th or 8th grader read anything in which she takes an interest, at least anything that can be found in a public library. I remember reading all sorts of things when I was 12 or 13, everything from texts on child psychology to "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…" (simply because my parents had these books in their home). No great harm done, I don't think, except for some misinformation that was later corrected with more reading.

  30. Reading to your kids is the best thing you can do for them! I'm sure with you as their mother, those children will be literate and have quite the expanded vocabulary! You'll be a great mom.

    3 teens mom, I'm going to recommend the Inheritance Trilogy. The first book is Eragon, the second is Eldest. The third book has yet to be published. They're currently being looked at as books for seniors to read in my school district. I've read them and highly recommend both books for your 7th grader.

  31. i've been reading you for years, stephanie, but this is my first post. maybe it's because i'm getting married the day after you, or because i am children's book editor, or because i'm just fraught with emotion these days, but that post was simply wonderful and hit me in a few different spots. i enjoyed it.

    best of luck to you on the 16th. here's to good weather and happy times.

  32. I love this post! Grammar teachers, reading aloud, inappropriate bedtime stories, and a Daddy singing to his kiddos. Does it get any better than that?

    Oh, and you should let the nurse read the book to him. It would definitely cure his boredom. Besides, most people, after living that long, have learned not to take things too seriously.

  33. I don't want to hog "air time," but this post really got me thinking about those books I've enjoyed over the years. Factor into the mix that I'm a former teacher to both kids & adults. So at the risk of overstaying my welcome, let me add:

    Ellen Foster-Kaye Gibbons
    Shoeless Joe – W.P. Kinsella
    This Boy's Life-Tobias Wolff
    The Duke of Deception – Geoffrey Wolff – Tobias' late brother. Both books deal with their father, but told from the viewpoint of brothers who saw different sides of the same man. I read one right after the other.
    Old School-Tobias Wolff
    The Diary of Anne Frank

    And now I'll shut up….

  34. This is one of my favourite posts.

    About reading: My parents and I both read a LOT. We don't even try to, and in fact we have to try *not* to. It's like a bad habit, sorta. Anyway, when my brother was born, we all read to him, all the time. All sorts of things: made-up, Shakespeare, Chinese, English. And he loved being read to.

    Okay, so fast forward a few years (he's 19 now)and it turns out that he does not read. Just doesn't. He isn't angry about it, he just would rather do almost anything else other than read a book.

    My parents and I are baffled by this, and at first a little hurt and kept retracing our steps, trying to figure out what we did wrong. Raising a non-reader, to us, seemed as bad as denying the sense of taste or sight to a child.

    Now, we're still mystified but have grudgingly accepted that some people, no matter how smart funny imaginative and human, don't read.

    Also, I read Catcher in the Rye as a 12 year old and basically sat frozen by the scandalousness of the book the whole time. It was awesome!

  35. 3 Teens' Mom – "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The only problem for my daughter was that, after she read them, she asked me to help her find more like them and I couldn't come up with any others as good.

  36. Well, as long as someone opened up this little can of worms about favorite books, I'd like to give kudos to JJ Rowlings for the Harry Potter series and getting kids back to the bookstore and the libraries.

  37. Stephanie, somebody mentioned an appearance on Oprah… is that actually planned, and for when?

  38. p.s. the last paragraph of this past, the last few sentences, absolutely made me cry. your happiness is one of his only joys these days, likely. made me cry.

  39. I'd kill to have my grampa around, or my dad…I am very much a grandma myself, but the missing is still there. I was touched by your ending. I wished your mom a wonderful trip to your wedding and begged for her to bring back a piece of wedding cake!

  40. I chuckled to myself reading that and won myself a funny look from my boss… oops.

    I too would cringe at the idea of my grandfather hearing that kind of story – but that's because you're thinking of him as an old man. But at the risk of being condescending, he was young too once (and horrid though it is to think of it, he had sex too once or twice when he was younger…) and actually it might make for a really welcome change.

    I think it must get dull to get old and have only safe conversations about grandchildren and special offers at the super market and so on for ever more. I fully intend to continue having conversations with friends that make me laugh so hard I think I'll wet myself (although in old age, admittedly, this is probably a risky strategy). I think it's worth reminding your grandchildren that you're not just a sappy old dear with a bed jacket and incontinence.

    So maybe send him an MP3 player with podcasts of a variety of things – comedy from his youth, comedy from now, latest tracks, news releases, travel guides etc. I bet he'd love it. And actually, even if he hates some of it, it'll give him something to discuss with you?

    That's my tuppence-worth anyway…

  41. Nerd alert! Nerd alert!

    [Clearing throat.]

    "No" may not be a sentence according to Mr. Israel, and when applied to an eighth-grader's compositional skill level, Mr. Israel's rule is likely a good one, but, alas, rules are made to be broken.

    I'm not so much a grammarian as I am a complete nerd and therefore love this kind of debate. Well, this isn't really a debate, but if it were, I would love it. So take a listen to the following adroitly argued professional opinions…

    "C.T. Onions defined sentence as a group of words–or sometimes a single word–that makes a statement (I am a tennis enthusiast), a command (Open the window), an expression of a wish (Let's go), a question (How are you?), or an exclamation (What a deal!). Modern English Syntax 1 (B.D.H. Miller ed., 1971). More recently still a grammatical dictionary states that a sentence 'usually' has a subject and a predicate. Sylvia Chalker & Edmund Weiner, The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar 358 (1994).

    "It appears [permissible], then, to have an 'incomplete' sentence–i.e., one in which the subject or the verb is at best implicit. Jespersen called one type 'amorphous sentences,' noting both that they are 'more suitable for the emotional side of human nature' and that it would be impossible to say precisely what is 'left out.'" Otto Jespersen, Essentials of English Grammar 106 (1933; repr. 1964).

    Under these guidelines, No., or perhaps more acceptably, No!, can be considered sentences. Mr. Israel, on the other hand, was probably mindful of this warning: "In the hands of anyone but an expert, [using amorphous sentences] is usually unsuccessful because the basic patterns have not been established, and missing ideas cannot be supplied." Robert M. Gorrell & Charlton Laird, Modern English Handbook 202 (2d ed. 1956).

    Master source for this whole mess: Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage 364 & 365 (1998).

  42. I have a photo of me in my grandfather's arms. I don't remember him, not the real him. The next time I saw him I was 13 and he was no longer able to speak or get out of bed. I made a point of taking pics of my baby with my grandmother who is 83+. My son won't remeber it…he'll only have the pic. But my grandmother will forever savor that memory.

  43. How do you remember all this stuff? Mr. Israel was amazing & he did run his hands against the walls of those long hallway corridors after class as though in another world. I don’t think I ever got the “grammar maven” title…

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